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5 Steps to Make Physical Therapy Work for Your RA

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4. Include Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is an essential part of physical therapy for RA. "Weight-bearing activities build and strengthen bone while reducing your risk of other health problems like heart disease and diabetes that often accompany rheumatoid arthritis," Long says.

Pair up with a walking partner or sign up for a class for people with arthritis. "You're less likely to bail on an activity if you know others are counting on you to show up," Long says.

Check with your local Arthritis Foundation office to find a health club near you that offers arthritis-friendly exercise programs including aquatic, tai chi, yoga, and walking activities.

5. Set Goals for Your PT

The first few years after her diagnosis, Mills felt she was in too much discomfort to manage any physical therapy. Her pain and mobility got worse until the once-active young mother was using a cane. "I was a 30-year-old trapped in a 90-year-old's body," Mills says.

Determined to "get better for my kids," Mills began working with a physical therapist and vowed to do her exercises every day, even through painful flare-ups. "I was especially motivated because I saw how rheumatoid arthritis affected my mom's ability to get around and enjoy life," she says.

Let family and friends know about the goals you've set for your physical therapy. You'll be more motivated to follow through, and loved ones can cheer you along the way.

In addition to keeping up with her kids, Mills' other goal was to get back to the gym. Today, she teaches indoor cycling three days a week and competes in body-building competitions. "People say they'd never guess I have a debilitating form of arthritis," Mills says. "I wouldn't be the active person I am today if I didn't make physical therapy for RA a priority every single day."

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Reviewed on March 13, 2013

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